5 Ways We Violate Our Children’s Boundaries Without Even Realizing It
Children can be irrational, emotionally driven little humans. Their cognitive minds are still developing, and everything grown-ups do and say — or don’t do and say — is internalized as a personal flaw, a direct blow to the tender core of their developing self-esteem.
“Mommy yelled at me for breaking her favourite vase: I am not good enough.” “Mommy and Daddy had a loud fight: I am not safe.”
“Daddy spanked me for arguing with him: I don’t matter.”
“Mommy grounded me and I can’t go to my best friend’s birthday party: I am helpless and out of control.”
As children, we internalize these self-created opinions or beliefs about what took place in our environment. They become a part of our mental database and they are solidified deep within the part of the mind that rules our behavior and our lives. Then we grew up and became parents ourselves.
We do our best, yet our unhealed childhoods impose our insecurities and pain on our kids. We violate their boundaries and keep them from developing healthy patterns in their fragile, emerging minds.
Are the mistakes we make as parents actually our own parents’ fault?
No, and Yes. Let me explain.
We get to choose what to do differently.
What happened in our childhood cannot be changed; we could not control the way our parents were then — and perhaps still are today. It’s just not possible.
However, what we can control is our perception of our parents and what happened to us while growing up. We’re adults now, in control of our minds, and we are the only ones who get to decide which perceptions should stay, and which ones are old, outdated and need to go because they no longer represent who we are today.
Reframing “Mommy yelled at me for breaking her favorite vase”
Instead of remaining stuck in the way we felt about things when we were small, we can say something like, “I am still good enough because what happened to me and what I told myself about it are not connected. They are two different things: A factual reality, and a perceptual reality. The yelling was an external event (factual reality), one of many fleeting circumstances. Yet, my sense of being “good enough” is an internal state of being (perceptual reality) and only I get to declare it.”
Reframing “Mommy and Daddy had a loud fight”
“I am still safe. Of course, I was scared at the time and didn’t feel safe. But today, as an adult I am safe because I get to speak up for myself, and I have choices.”
Reframing “Daddy spanked me for arguing with him”
“I still matter because my identity in the world does not depend upon the behaviour of others, parents included. I am the only one who gets to decide for myself and about myself.”
Reframing “Mommy grounded me and I can’t go to my best friend’s birthday party”
“I am in control. As a grown-up, I’m no longer helpless. I can face the challenges in my life. I am smart and resourceful, and it’s up to me to figure out how to make my life work. Besides, true control is the freedom to choose a mature and wise outlook about my past from my present state of being.”
This is how we break a generational cycle of dysfunctional parenthood.
We heal our past by taking charge of updating our mentality about it in our present. Working on ourselves is the best gift we can give our kids, so they get to grow up as healthy, well-rounded adults and future parents.
Meanwhile, as we are still discovering who we are and what healing is, we must remain vigilant so we don’t violate our children’s boundaries. Though, we may occasionally step out of line.
Here are five ways we violate our children’s boundaries without realizing it.
1. Projecting insecurities about our lack of control
We often project our own insecurities about lack of control onto our kids and demand they obey our rules and commands blindly and immediately, or face the consequences. “Stop playing video games right now and finish your homework, or you’ll be grounded for a week.” But, without any consideration for the child’s needs and wants, without communication and compromise, we violate their boundaries.
Instead, we could come from a place of wisdom and maturity and ask, “How much time do you need to finish this game? I understand it’s important to you, so I am willing to wait ten minutes.” This conveys that what they are doing is important; they are important, and their needs matter.
2. Imposing our views of worth and success
We tend to validate our personal sense of worthiness through our kids’ accomplishments. We push them into schools and activities without considering their unique talents, ambitions, and personalities. We don’t connect to the core of who they are.
By imposing our views, “This private school with accelerated academics is the best option for you. I paid so much money, you better perform; otherwise, you’re ungrateful”. In this way, we prevent them from finding their own footing and discovering their own voice to gain clarity about the direction of their future.
Kids can never feel good enough in the environment of not being fully accepted and acknowledged for who they are.
3. Solving their problems for them
We project our own feelings of helplessness onto our children by imposing a victim mentality upon them. We jump into solving their problems, small at first, “Let me talk to your friend so he’ll change his mind and invite you to his birthday party”. Then, later on, big, “Let me talk to your husband so he will treat you better”.
This robs our children of the ability to listen to their own inner voice and find solutions they believe are right for them. Of course, we don’t just throw them into the wild ocean of life and expect them to swim. We are there as their safety net while they are learning to swim proficiently in the turbulent current of self-esteem. We are their solid ground of safety, their voice of reassurance and empowerment that conveys to them that they are capable, smart and strong, and can accomplish the things they find important.
4. Invalidating their boundaries
We overcompensate for our own perceived lack of validation by demanding respect from our kids without respecting them back. We use phrases like “I know better,” “Do what you’re told,” or “Because I said so,” and completely invalidate their boundaries and right to hold a personal opinion.
Instead, we could let them choose for themselves, as in “Which color socks do you want to wear today?” “What would you like for dinner tonight? Here are the options…”, and “I understand you don’t want to go to Grandma Hazel’s on Saturday, so let’s talk about it and find a compromise.” This way, we demonstrate respect, validate their needs, and acknowledge their right to personal preference and opinion.
We treat them like real people and teach them the life-long skill of trusting themselves to make their own decisions.
5. Prioritizing our need for their approval
We project our own need for approval onto our children by saying yes all the time. “If I say no, she will reject me and stop loving me”, and we tend to over-shower them with gifts, as if their love for us is for sale.
This way we violate our kids’ boundaries and their choice to have a parent in their life. “You refused to study for your test last night and got an F today. We had a conversation about that and both agreed if it happened, you’d lose your electronic privileges.” Or, “You didn’t wear a helmet while biking today, and I’ve warned you about my rule. The consequence is, as we discussed, a month without e-biking.”
Kids who are not used to hearing no, and who are not held responsible for their actions tend to grow up egocentric and inconsiderate of the needs of others.
Parenting can feel like walking a high wire while blindfolded in a rainstorm. We are constantly grasping for balance and know we could lose our balance at any time. However, when we set up boundaries for ourselves so we don’t overstep, when we commit to self-work, and nurture our own childhood traumas into healing, the going gets easier.
The wire grows thicker and eventually becomes the solid ground of clarity and common sense we need to raise kind, responsible people with healthy self-esteem.